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Mehanna lawyer lashes out at prosecutors

Says scare tactics used in terror trial

Osama bin Laden.

The FBI agent on the witness stand in federal court yesterday had said the name of the dead Al Qaeda leader already, but attorney J. W. Carney Jr. wanted him to say it again.

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Osama bin Laden.

“Do you want to say that name any more times?’’ Carney asked, before repeating the name of the terrorist leader a few more times himself. “I’m just trying to help the government out.’’

Osama bin Laden.

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For the second consecutive day yesterday, Carney lashed out in the courtroom in accusing federal prosecutors of sensationalism in the terrorism trial of Tarek Mehanna of Sudbury, saying the government has repeatedly invoked the dead terrorist leader’s name and played video clips of suicide bombers promoting jihad as a strategy to scare jurors. On Monday, he twice asked the judge to declare a mistrial, saying gory videos that were to be played consecutively that day would prejudice the jury. The requests were denied.

Prosecutors objected to Carney’s questions and have defended introduction of the evidence and, in some cases, they have censored more gory parts of it. They assert that the defense is grasping for any strategy to challenge what they call a sizable amount of evidence against Mehanna, pointing out that he had glorified bin Laden in online chats with friends.

The trial, which could last two months, is in its second full week in US District Court in Boston, and it has already become a tug of war between the government and defense. The roiling emotions in the case became evident yesterday with Carney’s questioning of FBI Special Agent Andre Khoury’s references to bin Laden. Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. told the defense lawyer to return to proper questioning.

In another exchange yesterday, Khoury said he understood Carney’s point as the defense lawyer hammered away with arguments that some videos that prosecutors played Monday were produced to show the oppression of Muslims around the world, not just suicide bombings.

“I just want to make sure you’re not the only one in this courtroom aware of that,’’ Carney said, as he looked at the jury.

Mehanna, a 29-year-old US citizen, is charged with conspiring to support Al Qaeda, lying to investigators, and conspiring to kill in a foreign country. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say he translated and distributed jihadist materials and videos on the Internet, some of which have been played for jurors, in a deliberate plan to support Al Qaeda, answering the group’s call to promote its ideology in the West. Prosecutors also say he traveled to Yemen in 2004 seeking terrorism training, though he failed to get it.

Defense lawyers say that Mehanna, whom they have described as a budding scholar, traveled to Yemen for educational purposes.

They acknowledge that he distributed the videos and materials to his friends, but say he was protected under the First Amendment right to free speech. Mehanna, they say, was a devoted Muslim who was concerned about the oppression of Muslims in foreign lands, including Bosnia and Chechnya. His concern grew into vocal opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he never acted in cooperation with or at the direction of any organization, they said.

On Monday, prosecutors played a series of violent videos depicting suicide bombings and glorifying the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, asserting that they show Mehanna’s state of mind in passing out the videos and his support of Al Qaeda’s ideology. Some of the videos were produced by Al Qaeda, according to Khoury’s testimony.

But he acknowledged during Carney’s cross examination yesterday that the videos also depicted the oppression of Muslims in Iraq: one scene showed children suffering in a hospital, purportedly because of international sanctions against Iraq. Mehanna, Carney asserted, was angry over such oppression.

Carney also asserted that some of the videos of people firing missiles at helicopters were actually mujahideen fighters firing at a Soviet helicopter. The mujahideen opposed Soviet rule in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and they were praised by the United States as “freedom fighters,’’ and Mehanna publicly supported them, Carney said.

But Mehanna also became aware that his beliefs were being scrutinized by the FBI, according to testimony yesterday.

Mehanna told a friend who mentioned martyrdom, a reference to the act of dying for a religious cause, in an Internet chat in 2006, “Remember, I’m being watched,’’ according to transcripts of the chats, introduced in the trial yesterday.

Mehanna knew he was under investigation by the FBI: He had been approached by investigators encouraging him to serve as an informant and to spy on the Muslim community, his lawyers have said. Mehanna refused. And, according to the testimony yesterday, he believed one of his associates was spying on him.

Mehanna allegedly told a friend in an Internet chat that one of their associates on a Web forum knew information about him that he shouldn’t have known about, and he advised the friend to be careful.

“You never know with these things,’’ Mehanna wrote to his friend in May 2006, according to the testimony of FBI Special Agent Christian Fierabend, who read a transcript of chats.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.
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